Machine unguarded for decades seriously injures worker

A seatbelt webbing manufacturer has been prosecuted after an employee shattered his forearm in a warping machine that remained unguarded since its installation 25 years earlier.

Andrew Thomas, 50, seriously injured his left arm in the incident at Marling Leek’s premises in Leek, Staffordshire, in August 2012. He needed five operations to pin and plate it.

Thomas returned to work nine months later but has been left with permanent scarring and reduced strength and feeling in his arm, due to muscle loss and nerve damage.

Stafford Magistrates’ Court yesterday (11 December) heard that Thomas was operating a warping machine, which runs at between 150 and 220 rpm to take ends of yarn from dozens of bobbins and warp them onto a single bobbin called a beam. This happens under tension through a series of rollers.

Thomas was trying to retrieve a piece of loose yarn to stop it being wound onto the beam when his arm was dragged and crushed between two pre-tension rollers. He was trapped for around 30 minutes before firefighters freed him.

An HSE investigation found the warping machine was installed in 1988, but the company never recognised the need to guard it — exposing employees to significant risk for many years.

Though a risk assessment had been carried out it was not suitable or sufficient, as it failed to identify the risk from the tension rollers, or that they were legally required to be guarded.

Neither did the risk assessment identify a risk of strangulation, as employees often crouched under up to 400 ends of strong yarn to get from one side of the machine to the other.

The court was told that Marling Leek, which weaves and dyes webbing for seatbelts and harnesses, was prosecuted in June 2012 for a similar incident in its dye house department in August 2011.

The company resolved the issues in the dye house after being served with an improvement notice. But did not review other areas of the business where there were near identical failings.

Since the August 2012 accident, full, interlocked perimeter guards have been provided and the risk assessment has been updated.

Marling Leek was fined £35,000 and told to pay £5257 in costs after it admitted breaching Regulation 11 (1) of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations and Regulation 3(1)(a) the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations.

“It is very disappointing that this company had not learned the lessons following a prosecution for a very similar incident and allowed the same failings to continue to exist in a neighbouring department,” said HSE inspector Lyn Spooner, who added that a “very obvious risk [was] left to exist for many years”.